Portuguese Holiday 07/04/11
Claire Martens heads to Portugal where vegetarianism is a very foreign concept.
Before I left for Portugal for a 10-day holiday, I asked my chef-friend what the food was like. She made a joke that every dish was served with a Portuguese-style half-chicken. For a vegetarian, this did not bode well for a scrumptious holiday, where local dishes would be tested with relish. Instead, I realised that it would probably be like visiting Nandos every day, but without the vegetarian options.
A few hours before the 24-hour journey from Cape Town, through Madrid to Lisbon, I realised that I forgot to check with my mum about booking vegetarian meals on the flights. According to her, the travel agent didn’t ask, and she “kind-of forgot”. So I braced myself for the inevitable restless hunger. Luckily I was sufficiently pleasant to the Spanish flight attendant, prompting him to remember that a couple of vegan passengers hadn’t arrived.
I arrived in Portugal satisfactorily fed but soon lost the smug look on my face when my hostess told me that there is no such thing as a Portuguese vegetarian. However, my brother and I soon realised that there were adequate amounts of entrée’s to serve an army of vegetarians; especially those who love strong-tasting, smelly foods. Unfortunately, I have never taken to olives, asparagus and cheeses that smell like my shoes after a very active dancing session. So I stuck to the delicious creamed cheeses and a mountain of fresh bread.
Perhaps because we were visiting the coastal areas of Southern Portugal (the Algarve), I didn’t see a half-chicken once; although my uncle is a huge fan of the flame-grilled baby chickens which are a speciality in Portugal. He also happens to be a fan of black pigs; fried that is, not alive.
The Portuguese also have a vast array of weird and wonderful ocean creatures which they like to munch on at meal times. Who knew that barnacles had a wonderful flavour? Apparently they are quite popular. Fresh fish is kept on ice in refrigerators outside every restaurant, which started to get to me as I imagined the dull, black eyes watching me from their icy grave. The restaurants are quite competitive in providing the best fish dishes and the biggest servings. The side orders of vegetables seemed tiny in comparison.
With a lot of eating going on and a restaurant on every corner, we began to avoid the truly authentic Portuguese restaurants in favour of Italian and Western-style ones. The number of tourists that visit the Portuguese coastline promotes the establishment of English bars and one or two health shops; especially in the bigger cities. But if you are a vegetarian and you go to a local restaurant, you will be forced to eat masses of bread and butter, together with vegetable soup and a side of salad, if you’re lucky.
However, I wasn’t hungry once. The country is bursting at the sides with delicious fruit of every variety and every restaurant has its own dessert menu, due to the sheer quantity and diversity of sweet things you can buy. The wine rivals South Africa wine, offering the same body and richness, but not as much taste. You must try the Sangria at every venue, just like we did, night or day. (Basically I got drunk and ate ice-cream, which was fine by me!)
Portugal was an amazing, warm and lovely country, with beautiful, hot beaches and undulating wooded countryside. It is also a country of warm, buxom people and women with healthy figures and lovely, large bums – tt’s no wonder really, considering what they eat.
Despite the lack of foody choices and my cravings for Kauai, I still had a wonderful holiday filled with freshly-squeezed orange juice, beautiful men who are not afraid “to look at the menu” and breathtaking views.